The Tangled Web

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"Like I said... Sumiko needs her rest, so what are you all doing eating your breakfast in her room?" Koudou demanded curtly as he, Kazama, Amagiri,  and Shiranui all sat around Sumiko while they ate, who was eating off of her tray in her futon.

"Having our medical advice be ignored must run in the family..." Sumiko commented as she sweat-dropped, chagrined. "Why are you here?" she asked the three oni.

"We're sick of eating with all those noisy and sweaty guys," Shiranui replied unapologetically. "It's obvious we'd prefer the room with a flower in it."

"Flower...?" Sumiko asked with a wry smile. "You sound just like Sano-san."

"Sano-san?" Koudou asked curiously.

"Harada Sanosuke. He was the only one who treated me even remotely like a girl," she explained. "Aside from him and Hijikata-san, all the others kept calling me 'Aniki' and so on..."

"Aniki...?" Amagiri said, blinking.

"Yeah," Sumiko said with a sigh and small laugh. "It all started after Heisuke's group saw me save a cat while we were on patrol... I don't get what the big deal was, but apparently they thought the way I did was really 'manly', and they suddenly started asking if they could call me Aniki. I told them no, but they did it anyway..."

"Hah! I can definitely see that happening," Shiranui said with a grin. This woman had enough guts to try to fight and talk back to them, after all.

"Oh, that story reminds me..." Sumiko said as she lowered her chopsticks. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you, Amagiri-san."

"Me?" Amagiri asked, tilting his head slightly to the side while everyone else in the room glanced curiously at him.

"Yeah, so come here," she said, waving him over. Amagiri obediently did as she asked and knelt down beside her futon.

"Closer," Sumiko said, gesturing for him to lean down, as if she wanted to whisper something to him.

WHAM!

"!?" Amagiri said, startled when she suddenly head-butted him with all her might. "Why... Why did you hit me with your head?" Amagiri asked, slightly chagrined, as he rubbed his sore forehead.

"Because it's the hardest part of me," Sumiko deadpanned. "That's for Heisuke. You know, that kid you almost killed at Aburanokoji."

"Oh! The one you brought back to life?" Shiranui asked brightly as he remembered the impressive feat. "That was really shocking! How's he doing?" Sumiko frowned and bowed her head as she looked down at the cover of her futon.

"I couldn't stop the bleeding," she said sadly. "In the end, he became a rasetsu."

"Hmph. Indeed, they're all fools," Kazama, who had been silently enjoying his breakfast, said cynically as he stood up. "That man, Hijikata Toshizo, became one as well." Sumiko's eyes widened in horror as she stared up at him.

"... You're lying," she said, not wanting to believe it. "Why would he—"

"It is true," Amagiri said as he got back on his feet and walked over to join the others so they could leave for their mission. "I witnessed him fighting Kazama in the form of a rasetsu for myself."

"No..." Sumiko said quietly, shaking her head, as tears started to form in her eyes. Not Hijikata-san. Not him, too!

Kazama narrowed his eyes slightly and frowned when he saw the look in her eyes. He didn't like it.

"Let's go," he said, taking his tray with him as he headed for the door. Amagiri bowed politely before obediently following suit.

"Eh? I'm not done eating yet," Shiranui said, frowning.

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